Sunday, September 5

Godly Play: Part 1

I've posted several posts about godly play in the home and have promised some of you that I would explain in more detail what godly play is and how to get started (in church or at home). I will try to post several times over the next couple weeks to fulfill this promise as briefly and helpfully as I can. I love talking and thinking about Christian Education, so feel free to ask any questions you might have and I'll do my best to answer them or send you to resources that will help.

Part 1: What is Godly Play and Some Cautionary Notes

Godly Play was developed by Jerome W. Berryman. Also, the work of Maria Montessori is central to Godly play (read this if you are unfamiliar with Montessori method). Basically, Berryman took the playful and manipulative storytelling approach used in montessori method and applied it to religious education. At the heart of this method is the belief that children have spiritual lives; by helping them play with religious stories and by helping them work on expressing their religious experience, we give them the words to articulate and understand their spiritual life. Memorizing verses and stories will give them a biblical education, but will not fully equip them for worship and spiritual discernment. I believe that both the biblical and spiritual education are vitally important.

What I love most about godly play is that it takes play very seriously and makes the stories come alive to the children. Godly play leaves time for children to wonder and explore the stories in their own way. As an adult at godly play I am always impressed the insights that come through working with the materials and entering into the story in such an imaginative way. The children are often my guide in this as they are so unhindered and come to some amazing insights (and some comic ones that are amazing in a different way.)

When I talk about godly play in the home, I'm not simply talking about using the curriculums that are available. I am introducing the idea that we should have a way for children to play with the Biblical story and christian practice on a daily basis. Our godly play table (which I will show in detail in a later post) is played with often for several days and then will sit un-played with for awhile, just like other toys in the house. But, the Bible, children's Bibles, prayer book, electric candles (which we light in prayer), Biblical figures and props are all there when Jonah wants to play (by which, I mean 'use his imagination to seek understanding' - that is my definition of play).
a fire breathing dragon joins Shadrack, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace.

Often Jonah's cars and other toys join in the adventures of the biblical figures. I am reminded that the biblical story is not fragile, and that, by bringing in other toys, he is understanding the story in new ways and making applications of biblical truths outside the Biblical story - that is so exciting! At times I listen to his play and see what he is understanding spiritually, what he is wrestling with, and sometimes what he is misunderstanding. I rarely address these issues while he is playing alone, but will engage him in conversation or a retelling of a story later to help clarify if I think it is needed.

If you are interested in using godly play in your church here are a few notes various curriculums.

A few cautionary notes:
1. The popular Godly Play curriculum available is theologically weak in places. It is also fairly abstract for the very young child. That said, I have been using this series for the past year at our church and with a careful reading and studying of the biblical story and some thoughtful tweaking it is a good curriculum.
There are a few other Godly Play curriculums out there. The quakers have rewritten the curriculum (I haven't used this yet) and there is a book called Young Children in Worship that was co-authored by Berryman and Sonya Stewart. I have used a couple lessons out of this, which seemed excellent (from my limited use of it).
2. The scope of the curriculums is limited. A child will not understand the larger biblical story through using godly play curriculums alone. They will enter into a worship experience and grow in so many wonderful ways, but a child who did not have other training along the way would not understand biblical theology and would miss out on many wonderful parts of the Biblical story.
3. I personally like to go through the biblical story in accordance to the church year as I think celebrating the church year is a very imaginative way to enter into the biblical story and help children form a biblical theology instead of just amassing a bunch of stories that hold loosely together. None of the curriculums do this in the way that I would. I like to do Old Testament during ordinary time, entering into the incarnation during advent and continue studying the life and works of Christ through assention day (40 days after easter) and then spending pentecost and some weeks after on pentecost, acts and the epistles before returning to the OT. I just adjust the curriculums in this manner.


EricaG said...

Emily, I'm so glad that you posted this. I keep hearing about Godly Play, and I want to establish it in our home, too!

alljoinin said...

Absoloutly agree with your view on Godly play! Loving your little people, where did you get your wooden peg people?

Watkins said...

I order my peg people from Casey's Wood Products in Maine as they are a good small company. But, they can be found at most craft stores as well.

alljoinin said...

I just popped here to let you know that I've posted a link on alljoinin to your wonderful blog in realation to Godly play. When I've opened comments I notice you have replied to last comment, thank you. You will smile at the post, I've found an alternative to peg people but I will still be finding some.